Angus Hyde UWS News
Italy have announced their 31-man squad for the 2019 Six Nations tournament announcing former England u-20 flanker David Sisi for his first cap for the Azzuri and the return of iconic captain Sergio Parisse following his injury over the Autumn Tests.
The Italians will open their Six Nations by taking on Scotland at Murrayfield on February 2nd, hoping to set themselves a new path after a terrible run after losing ever game since beating the Scots back in 2015. Their lead to the opening game However Italy now find themselves in the middle of a heated debate as to whether they deserve to be in the competition after becoming the wooden spoon regulars.
Whilst the Italian passion for the game clearly shows through the players and their spirited performances against top class opposition every year, not forgetting their ”chaos ruck” tactics which almost saw them secure a famous win over England in 2017, questions are still asked about whether they still merit their place when teams like Georgia and Romania becoming regular winners of the Six Nations B.
As well as the two established Eastern European teams, we have recently seen the rise of Germany who unluckily missed out on the final Repechage place in December for Japan’s World Cup later this year and also Spain who just fell short despite a strong showing in Europe 1 missing out to Belgium as they progressed to face Romania.
The main problem for Italy is not necessarily the drive of the current players but more the infrastructure and passion from the Italian people, and also their dominance on the football world which turns the sport into a religion for Italians across their country, taking away from the smaller sports like Rugby. Talking to Zebres fan Daniele Stella, he talks about his struggle to support rugby due to the lack of teams in his area of Rome.
It’s hard because theres no rugby club in Italy’s capital, although several cities around Rome have rugby schools, no one is professional.
Italian people are fundamentally interested in football and that is what they are. Italians often have trouble expanding their horizons, Most people just follow football without caring to other minor sports, which I think is really wrong.
It would be perfect for Italian rugby if it was to stay in such a prestigious competition [Six Nations], however it would be even better if you could get some important results. Success in the Europe Rugby Championship would perhaps inspire more Italians to be interested in this wonderful sport
The prospect of returning to a Five Nations tournament meant could potentially spell a massive improvement for the smaller European teams as they would all focus on the success of their campaign within a competitive league rather than competing to become the whipping boys of a group of rugby giants. Speaking to former rugby journalist Ron Evans, he spoke about European rugby federations like Spain and Portugal focusing more on the Sevens aspect of the game due to its inclusion into the Olympic Games.
Whether there is the desire to take the sides beyond the sevens game an whether this is possible is down to how they develop a competent club game. The peripheral countries are more likely to focus on sevens due to player numbers as it’s much easier to get fifteen good players rather than a squad of thirty.
I think within Italy I think they have to raise the profile of rugby away from it being a middle class sport, to being accessible to any youngsters from any part of society to get involved in. When you look at Scotland with the amount of players who come through fee-paid schools along with the determination on the side of the SRU, looking at that success the Italian Rugby Federation could apply the exact same strategy to Italy.
Italy now have the chance to make a difference in the lead up to future tournaments, as they now run the rim of being shown up by the other up and coming European sides within tournaments like the World Cup in Japan.
The Azzuri now move on to Edinburgh, whether they can end a dismal three-year run of defeats against the high flying Scots, will remain to be seen.
Italy kicks off their Six Nations campaign against Scotland at 2:15pm on February 2nd 2019 at Murrayfield.